Updated: June 3, 1999
- Under the Stafford Act, a Governor may request the
President to declare a major disaster or an emergency if an event is beyond
the combined response capabilities of the State and affected local governments.
Based upon the findings of a joint Federal-State-local Preliminary Damage
Assessment (PDA) indicating the damages are of sufficient severity and
magnitude to warrant assistance under the Act, the President may grant
a major disaster or emergency declaration. (Note: In a particularly
fast-moving or clearly devastating disaster, the PDA process may be deferred
until after the declaration.)
- If an emergency involves an area or facility for which the Federal
Government exercises exclusive or primary responsibility and authority,
the President may unilaterally direct the provision of emergency assistance
under the Stafford Act. The Governor of the affected State will
be consulted if possible.
- No direct Federal assistance is authorized prior
to a Presidential declaration. However, FEMA can use limited pre-declaration
authorities to move Initial Response Resources (critical goods typically
needed in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, e.g., food, water, emergency
generators) and emergency teams closer to potentially affected areas.
FEMA also can activate essential command and control structures to lessen
or avert the effects of a disaster and to improve the timeliness of disaster
operations. Additionally, when an incident poses a threat to life
and property that cannot be effectively dealt with by the State or local
governments, FEMA may request the Department of Defense (DOD) to utilize
its resources prior to a declaration to perform any emergency work “essential
for the preservation of life and property” under the Stafford Act.
- Following a declaration, the President may direct
any Federal agency to use its authorities and resources in support of
State and local assistance efforts to the extent that provision of the
support does not conflict with other agency emergency missions.
This authority has been further delegated to the FEMA Director; the FEMA
Associate Director, Response and Recovery; the FEMA Regional Director;
and the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO).
- The FEMA Director,
on behalf of the President, appoints an FCO, who is responsible for coordinating
the timely delivery of Federal disaster assistance to the affected State,
local governments, and disaster victims. In many cases, the FCO
also serves as the Disaster Recovery Manager (DRM) to administer the financial
aspects of assistance authorized under the Stafford Act. The FCO
works closely with the State Coordinating Officer (SCO), appointed by
the Governor to oversee disaster operations for the State, and the Governor’s
Authorized Representative (GAR), empowered by the Governor to execute
all necessary documents for disaster assistance on behalf of the State.
- The State must commit to pay a share of the cost to receive certain
types of Federal assistance under the Stafford Act. In extraordinary
cases, the President may choose to adjust the cost share or waive it for
a specified time period. The Presidential declaration notes any
cost-share waiver, and a FEMA-State Agreement is signed further stipulating
the division of costs among Federal, State, and local governments and
other conditions for receiving assistance.
- While performing a function under the authority of the Stafford Act,
a Federal agency or designated employee of a Federal agency is not liable
for any claim based upon the exercise or performance of or the failure
to exercise or perform that function.
- In addition to a Presidential disaster declaration, several Federal
agencies have independent authorities to declare disasters. For
example, the Secretary of Agriculture may declare a disaster in certain
situations in which a county has sustained production losses of 30 percent
or greater in a single major enterprise, authorizing emergency loans for
physical damages and crop losses. The Secretary of Commerce may
make a determination of a commercial fishery failure or fishery resource
disaster. The Administrator of the Small Business Administration
may make a disaster declaration based on physical damage to buildings,
machinery, equipment, inventory, homes, and other property as well as
- Response by agencies to lifesaving and life-protecting requirements
under the FRP has precedence over other Federal response activities, except
where national security implications are determined to be of a higher
priority. If a disaster or emergency affects the national security
of the United States, appropriate national security authorities, plans,
and procedures will be used.
- Resource Coordination and Management
- To the maximum extent possible, internal local and State resources
should be used as the first line of support in response to a disaster.
Intra- and interstate mutual aid can provide an additional option for
timely and cost-effective resource support that can be executed prior
to a Presidential disaster declaration. Mutual aid can be particularly
useful in a disaster that depletes the resources of an individual community
or State, but does not require a Presidential declaration.
- Once State resources and capabilities are exhausted, Federal assistance
may be provided to support State operational requirements and priorities.
- When appropriate, Federal agencies should use their own authorities
and funds to provide assistance for alleviating damage, loss, hardship,
- Federal assistance takes many forms — including the direct provision
of goods and services, financial assistance (through insurance, grants,
loans, direct payments), and technical assistance — and can come from
- Initial sources include internal government supplies (available surplus
and excess property, agency stock previously acquired from the Disaster
Relief Fund or on hand). Agencies also may acquire needed goods
and supplies outside the Federal Government from the private sector
and possibly nonaffected State and local governments.
- Resources are acquired using a standard government procurement vehicle
such as a purchase order, blanket purchase agreement, contract, or cooperative
agreement. Additionally, FEMA may use a mission assignment, which
is a work order issued to another Federal agency directing completion
of a specific task or provision of a service in anticipation of, or
in response to, a Presidential declaration of a major disaster or emergency.
(See the Financial Management Support Annex
for additional information.)
- An appropriate level of management oversight, protection, and accountability
must be assured — from acquisition through final disposition — for all
federally provided property brought to, used at, loaned by, or acquired
at a disaster site. (See the Logistics Management
Support Annex for additional information.)
- Federal agencies may coordinate with voluntary organizations that provide
a wide variety of disaster relief goods and services. Donations
often play an important role in supplying disaster victims with essential
needs. (See the Donations Management Support
Annex for additional information.)
- Additionally, Federal agencies are encouraged to take advantage of
current partnership relations with the private sector. Businesses,
both inside and outside the disaster-affected area, can supply critical
resources during response operations, and assist in restoring essential
services and rebuilding the economic base during recovery operations.
(As potential disaster victims, private-sector businesses also are urged
to identify their risks, develop appropriate contingency plans, and take
corrective actions prior to a disaster.)
- Many foreign governments and individuals will respond with offers of
assistance. Handling these offers could involve FEMA, the Department
of State, the Department of the Treasury/U.S. Customs Service, and the
Department of Justice/Immigration and Naturalization Service. State
and local governments, however, are ultimately in charge of donations,
in coordination with national, State, and local voluntary organizations.
- In an event requiring massive resources, conflicting priorities requiring
the same resources should be resolved in the field by the Emergency Response
Team (ERT) Operations Section Chief or FCO. Unresolved resource
conflicts and unmet State needs will be referred to FEMA Headquarters
to the Emergency Support Team (EST) and/or the Catastrophic Disaster Response
Group (CDRG), if necessary, for final resolution.
- The Stafford Act requires that Federal agencies avoid duplicating resources
and benefits whenever possible, i.e., agencies should not provide to a
disaster victim the same or similar assistance that another agency is
providing. Disaster victims are responsible for repayment of Federal
assistance duplicated by private insurance or other Federal programs.
(See the Recovery Function Annex for additional
information on duplication of benefits.)
- Outreach/Information Dissemination
- Community relations activities will be undertaken to provide information
on Federal assistance programs to affected individuals, groups, organizations,
and local governments. In addition, critical feedback from those
affected will be provided for the FCO and staff. (See the Community
Relations Support Annex for additional information.)
- Congressional liaison will be established to provide information to
the Washington, DC, and district offices of Members of Congress and to
respond to questions, concerns, and problems raised by their constituents.
(See the Congressional Affairs Support Annex
for additional information.)
- Public information will be an integral activity in disaster operations
to ensure the coordinated and timely release of essential information
to the public and news media about disaster-related activities.
(See the Public Affairs Support Annex for additional